By Barton Seaver
Last week, a 60-meter Japanese fishing vessel following the Benguela Current northward along the southwest coast of Africa entered Angolan waters, where it remained for some five days before returning to international waters to meet side-by-side with a Japanese reefer vessel.
That activity is more than suspicious. Ships don’t just accidentally drift into the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of other countries and stay there for the good part of a week. This was almost certainly a textbook case of pirate fishing: one boat without proper permits or quota heads out onto the high seas to fish, and then later transfers that catch to a legal vessel while at sea. Similar illicit activity was observed by passengers aboard the National Geographic Explorer last April.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, also known as pirate fishing, is a massive problem across the globe. It is estimated that IUU fishing costs the industry as much as $23.5 billion per year and accounts for up to 20% of global wild marine catch, though the extent of the problem is impossible to determine.
From an environmental perspective, illegal fishers are often overfishing already depleted fish stocks, using destructive gear, and sabotaging responsible fisheries management efforts. From a health and community perspective, pirate fishers are robbing subsistence harvesters and other waterfront dwellers of their livelihoods. Over one billion people, most of whom are in developing countries, rely on seafood as their primary source of protein.
The word “pirate” can evoke some pretty whimsical imagery, but the reality is that pirate fishing is so convoluted and multifaceted that it defies any simple description. Activities that fall into the category of IUU fishing range from fishing above the set quota for a certain species (and failing to report it), to fishing within the EEZ of another country without permission, to violating regulations on a specific fishery, such as equipment standards, maximum trip time in a designated area, or maximum by-catch thresholds. More....